Essay
08.28.2019

Does politics have an answer to digital disenchantment?

Here is the problem: technology is producing profound insights in the realm of politics, but the realm of politics is succumbing to deep ignorance about technology. Theorists of technology are becoming the most significant sources of political ideas; theorists of politics are becoming incapable of understanding significant technological ideas.

Unschooled in perceiving the development of digital technology for what it is, political leaders now frenetically throw around appeals to concepts—slogans, “values,” “ideals”—that have come unglued from the reality formed by our surrounding digital environment. The concepts being developed by leading technologists, by contrast, are gaining serious influence over political life despite their departure from “mainstream” concepts because of how strongly rooted they are in perceptions formed by the digital environment.

These two destabilizing trends raise (significantly) two linked issues, one more abstract and one more particular. First, is the Western political tradition obsolete? Second, is America, because of its regime, worth the trouble of trying to preserve?

The Rise of Digital Technology

Here is what political theorists do not understand about digital technology. First, it is not the product of incremental, linear scientific progress. It is different in kind from the technology that came before—all merely electric technology, spanning from telegraph to “wireless telegraph” (radio) to television to “wireless television” (online video).

That’s right—it’s a fundamental mistake to see, for instance, YouTube (or YouPorn) as simply digital technologies. Digital is an entirely new medium than electric. It is obsolescing the old electric medium, reshaping our perceptions and sensibilities. In the digital environment, the electric is transformed from context into mere content. Electric media—think television and radio—lose their shaping power to the new formative surround of digital. They become mere content.

“Deepfakes” are a powerful example. As Bill Hader does vocal impressions of Tom Cruise and Seth Rogan, his face can now visibly and seamlessly morph into theirs. An initial reaction may be that in the digital context television becomes even more “trippy” or fantastic than it, as a screen flashing with apparent imagery, already is.

But that’s not quite right. The real contextual change imposed by digital is that the authority of the imagination that defined life in the electric environment is overthrown. In the pre-digital age, everyone knew that televisual technology was all about “moving” people psychologically and socially by broadcasting “visions” crafted to achieve certain results.

The key is that the content of those broadcasts mattered less to the structure of social order than the context that was televisual (and other electric) media itself. The context was the rule of the human imagination. Those most expert at creating ethical dreams for mass broadcast and adoption made up the institutional elite, both in private and public life: the spheres of influence which smeared together and produced a global Western ruling class.

This class, psychologically and socially deeply formed by the electric environment, was emotionally and scientifically certain that the technological progress they superintended would result in the consummation or perfection of their globalized environment. This context decisively shaped the content of what we might call “televisual ethics.” In this way was the medium itself the “message.”

Even though the electric elite at midcentury had made the mistake of expecting television to pacify and harmonize society after the horrific shock of radio’s formative consequences—namely, totalistic political ideologies of instantaneous dictatorial verbal command—the same elite, after it retook mastery over television from the radicals and revolutionaries, readily concluded that the internet would amplify and purify television, enhancing everything good about it and fixing everything bad about it. The internet would push television to a virtuous extreme of media completion, causing everyone to connect fruitfully and peacefully in their new capacities as both audience members and content producers.

Now we all could be our own TV hosts, channels, even our own broadcast networks. The internet would enable the televisual medium to perfect the “togetherization” of everyone—productively, peacefully, and amicably. Everyone would become “friends,” in the new idiom, although really the idea was much closer to the more loaded phrase invoked by electric age idol John Lennon in the televisual anthem “Imagine”—“a brotherhood of Man.”

These democratizing and capitalizing features of perfect televisual rule would consecrate a durable new relationship between rulers and ruled. The ambitions of H.G. Wells, who had prophetically dreamed up a postwar utopia where religion, family, and the nation-state had been replaced by a virtuous post-political elite of imagineering scientists of ethics, would at last be achieved.

Of course, this is not what happened. And in all likelihood it is the opposite of what is yet going to happen. But why? The view of the imagineers and their faithful audiences is that the machines they built to produce utopia were abused by all-too-ordinary people, who are still plagued by the disgusting and dispiriting flaws that have always hamstrung human beings.

Some of the leading imagineers in tech, such as the inventor of Twitter’s retweet button, are now wracked with resentment toward their creations. Their naivete toward their fellow man, they bitterly reflect, led them to create tools that would have helped usher in human harmony at historic scale were it not for those damn humans and their desire for disorder, cruelty, enmity, and violence.

We united the dreams and the tools that would end history—and these monsters used them to restart it again! This vengeful and wounded cry now shows up constantly in the backlash within tech itself to social media. Making the world safe for democracy at the end of the First World War had failed; making the world safe for elitism at the end of the Second World War also failed; and remaking the world through a fusion of the two at the end of the Cold War has now failed as well. No wonder the increasingly naked desire today is to make the world safe for bot-ocracy. The task of harmoniously ordering humanity has at last been shown to outstrip even the capabilities of the most ethical humans with the best tools; only the bots and the algorithms, perfectly expert in allocation at scale, can save us now.

But such a vision of using robots to realize human dreams is itself an electric-age idea pushed to terminal extremes. Digital shapes us in such a way as to disenchant even this ultimate wager of the imagination. After all, digital technology does not shape our perceptions and sensibilities in accordance with the rule and measure of the human imagination, but in accordance with the supremacy of machine memory. Rather than the psychedelic sensory trip of televisual life wherein each individual is ethically moved to do as they dream, digital forms us all to experience life in the context of an inescapable and comprehensive architecture of recordation and recollection: an ultimate Archive of all the types of things.

Within the context of the digital Archive, our imaginative dreams and doings are a dime a dozen, or perhaps radically less. The initial explosion of content online, as all dreamed they could contribute feelings, opinions, and artefacts just as meaningful as formerly famous ones, has begun to crash into a great disenchantment that reaches far beyond the “creative class” and into the economic, cultural, and political life of the nations of the West.

Digital teaches the opposite lessons from those fostered by decades of televisual life, and bitterly so. “Putting yourself out there” is most likely to result in attention only from those who oppose you. In the digital environment, it becomes clear that the cost of time and energy in forming opinions and sharing them in the first place means that participating openly in public and private life often has negative value. This new sensibility disenchants the great televisual ethic of taking your what-ifs to market. Even the best creators with the biggest budgets and most powerful tools often see their content plowed under the most trivial and meaningless filler. Digital disenchants televisual socioeconomics in a far more radical way than political correctness, with its fanatical electric-age delusion that expertise in imaginative mass mind control can reduce “bad” opinions to zero while increasing diversity and harmony in creative civilization. Increasingly, only those convinced that their very identity is at stake are willing to bear the costs and risks of “the discourse.” Hysteria becomes normative in the online “public square”—but in the digital context, the communicative life of the public square itself becomes marginal, low status, a form of content out of alignment with our newly characteristic patterns of experience and the concepts that arise from them.

What, then, is replacing the obsolescing rule of the human imagination and the institutional elite that ordered the globalized West by “perfecting” that rule? Now, the hallmarks of communication within digital’s archival architecture shape our psyches/souls: think identity, history, biography. These preoccupations of distinctly human memory sharply reveal the fundamental binary in digital life between people and bots: we visible, incarnate, living beings versus invisible, disincarnate, animate yet not living beings. Notice that the ultimate robots in digital life are not hardware machines doing parkour and slipping on banana peels. The ultimate robots are much less like humans than—yes—angels: whether in fear or fascination, Americans now wonder how many of these energy-entities can dance on the head of a pin. Even if the operations of the machines being arrayed to rule us reveal themselves in specific places, these invaders we encounter have ceased to exist in physical space.

And so there are those among the super-intelligent refugees from the sinking Titanic of the televisual elite who wish to go even beyond the “ultimate” electric-age vision of creating bots pure and powerful enough to rule us with perfect master virtue. Tapping into both psychedelic drugs and the deepest vein of gnostic thought, which transcends all eras of technological development since the development of the alphabet, these digital natives formed by terminal televisual technology want to build machines that, angel-like, bear us “heavenward,” such that we can at last overcome our wretched imperfect humanity—merging with both our ultimate dreams and our ultimate tools to become as gods. As the likes of “Singularity” evangelists Ray Kurzweil or Eliezer Yudkowsky and their followers demonstrate, the project is not simply to radically extend our lifespan or eliminate all disease on Earth (endeavors top technologists are already actively funding). It is to shed the body and achieve immortality as pure consciousness. Within Silicon Valley, these gnostic cults of transhumanism, and their conscious conception of queer polyamory, pharmaceuticals, and psychedelics as stations en route to the full and final emancipation of human imagination, are well known. There are, as they say, many such cases.

And yet there is one more group of note among top technologists, who reject all televisual visions and see in digital the retrieval of premodern forms that restore true pride of place to the best of the human. While, given the outsized goals and frenetic energies of the prevailing elite, this group may now seem the most anodyne or marginal, it is, in some key respects, the most pivotal of the bunch to America’s future, as we will see in a moment.

But none of these features of the environment in which the American regime finds itself today are quite comprehensible to our political theorists. They do not understand—or, at least, they certainly do not adequately understand—its nature, its contours, and its stakes.

Needless to say, such ignorance is doubly or triply true of America’s policymakers and politicians. But the special peril facing America’s regime is that its best political thinkers, its philosophers and theorists, have all but lost the ability to show how America’s regime can and should be preserved to those most in need of showing. Before the advent of digital, there was fairly strong reason to trust in a popular rallying effect amid severe challenges to the republic, but today such an effect is now likely too weak by itself to preserve the regime. If American political thinkers can no longer speak intelligibly to technologists about why and how the American regime must be preserved, it is reasonable to conclude that it won’t be.

The Fall of Political Theory

The problems with American political theory extend well before the onset of the digital age. By the mid-1990s, the discipline was divided into roughly three schools. A “communitarian” school, oriented around social values, opposed the “libertarian” one focused around descriptive and prescriptive individualism. A “critical theory” school more or less opposed the other two on partly normative and partly methodological grounds. Critical theorists, left largely to their own devices for reasons of political correctness and disciplinary opacity, grew deeply recondite in its doctrines and language yet ever more influential. Political theory schools as a whole grew more ideologically fixed, however: the social wing became dominated by Rawlsianism, while the most powerful faction at the individualist pole was Straussianism.

The swift eclipse on the Left of the Rawlsians by the critical theorists is an important story in its own right, but the trajectory of Straussianism needs special attention. Though their influence was to a degree overhyped during the Bush years, the “East Coast” Straussians who rose in the ranks to positions of not just academic but policy power more or less did seize, and blow, an opportunity to durably order the post-Cold War world. Critics of these public-spirited East Coast Straussians, not without reason, portrayed them as, ultimately, Nietzscheans, using philosophy as a sort of gateway drug or filtering mechanism to select for young nobles who could be empowered to set values and rule accordingly.

But the East Coast Straussians were, like Leo Strauss himself, deeply concerned with regime cycles, and yearned to prevent America, and the world, from falling prey to them. In the ancient world, Plato and Polybius warned that all regimes were subject to the natural cycle of regime decadence, decay, and collapse. For Strauss, the modern age had configured the stages of the cycle moving from traditional regimes to liberal regimes, and from liberal regimes to his great nemesis, the universal state. For Strauss, this terminal stage in the regime cycle was the ultimate dystopia because, as he maintained in his famous debate with the Hegelian Eurocrat Alexandre Kojève, philosophy and the universal state were incompatible and irreconcilable, and the latter would extinguish the former.

Because the philosopher was the best man, the man with the best knowledge who therefore lived the best life, the universal state was not just an “assassination of the future of mankind,” in Nietzsche’s idiom, but of the specific type of man most needed to preserve that future. Even if philosophy and philosophers were not quite sufficient to the life worth living for human beings, they were necessary for it to exist. Kill off philosophy, and Nietzsche’s dire warning about the descent of humanity into radical irrelevance to itself would swiftly, and perhaps even permanently, become true.

Now, the key for Strauss and his East Coast heirs was that philosophy and philosophers therefore had to become political and meet the cycle of regimes where they found it in order to mount a fateful defense unlike any kind any other political actors could mount. That meant, in terms of content, a robust, even warlike defense of liberal regimes, specifically of the virtuous capacity of liberal regimes to understand their self-interest in reserving special honor for the peoples and lands which they ruled. The universality of natural right must be harmonized with the particularity of the nation-state. America’s role in making this clear was special, but it was a general rule, urgently applicable far beyond the shores of the United States.

Yet even more important to the trajectory of East Coast Straussianism than its content was its context. Notoriously, Straussianism was a hermeneutic, a methodology of reading texts. The genius of Strauss was to recognize that philosophy in the mid-to-late twentieth century had to become political and mount its defense at the given point in the cycle of regimes through the authority of the text—that is, through the printed word, or, in technological terms, the medium of the press. The way for philosophy to mobilize a new political elite that could preserve and advance it was by convincing elites that the world’s problems could only be understood and fully met by reading and mastering the “great books” of Western philosophy.

If the electric age formed us to seek and develop the global rule of the human imagination—what Strauss feared as the “universal state”—then Strauss’s counterattack against electric conditioning was print re-conditioning. Unfortunately, however, the Straussian project increasingly insisted on a universal solution to the universal problem of the cycle of regimes. Strauss postulated that the classical theory of regime cycles was obsolete insofar as life after the Enlightenment (in media terms, in the global environments of print and then electricity) globalized regime. While he recognized the challenge, natural right proved near impossible for his intellectual heirs to resurrect in such an environment except as a strain of increasingly hollow rhetoric. The televisual context, with its commanding ethic of the imagination, decisively shaped even these “heroic” defenders of print over electric.

This was the latent paradox that sprung a trap for the East Coast Straussians. For them, ostensibly, only Great Books would save us; in reality, the political project hinged entirely on “the city in speech,” the “vision thing” of leaders whose expertise in broadcasting the ethical fantasy of “ending tyranny in our world” would authorize them to shockingly, awesomely manifest their dreams “anywhere” in the world. These responses to terminally triumphant televisual wraparound offered no fix to the cycling toward a terminal global regime that was not, in a fundamentally political way, itself global. The supposedly most canny and reality-conscious manipulators of human desire and interest fell into the same kind of delusional utopianism as the rest of the televisual elite. In so doing, they disastrously contributed to the weakening of America’s strategic position, and the weakening of America’s regime itself, precisely at the final moment of relative stability before digital technology swept across the country and the world.

Thus American political theory “developed” into a position of almost complete irrelevance during the 2000s. Unable to say anything that made a meaningful contribution to American life regarding events that ranged from 9/11 and the financial crisis to the Arab “Spring” and the rise of China, the discipline largely collapsed into a discredited rump Straussian faction, a school fundamentally composed of economists, and a metastasizing blob of critical theorists spreading the same vanguard radicalism as “studies” professors and students in other departments.

Jaffa in a Digital Age

Importantly, however, some Straussians had hived off and established themselves in relative sanctuary on the West Coast: Harry Jaffa’s disciples. West Coast Straussianism has shifted intellectual balance between universality and particularity in different ways over the years, but it has always adamantly opposed the East Coast view in two ways, one universalist and one particularist. In the first instance, the West Coasters insisted that “natural right” was real—a discoverable anthropological template for justice fully understood, not a city in speech shaped to initiate young elites into a higher, more noble calling. In the second instance, West Coasters followed Jaffa in adjudging America’s regime the best in philosophy and in reality.

And here is the crucial twist. While Jaffa’s disciples surely agreed that the supremacy of America’s regime by the standard of justice had to do with the benefits accruing to its people from its unique and historic philosophical reconciliation of the nettlesome theological-political problem, that fateful achievement bore such significance because of its role in arresting—yet never destroying—the iron logic of the cycle of regimes. Setting aside the many ins and outs of the details, Jaffa’s advancement on Strauss was simply to establish that the question of the importance to humanity of America’s prospective projections into the world was secondary to the question of the importance to humanity of America’s continued existence in the world. That is, both for America and humanity as a whole, the constant, foundational political directive for Americans is to preserve the American regime, not to imagineer a global one.

This philosophical and anthropological directive gains profound new significance, and, potentially, traction, in the digital age. It calls upon the resources of perception, sensibility, and attitude that digital brings formatively forward—in action against the fruitlessness and hysteria of the disenchanted televisual ethic.

For Jaffa, if you bungle the regime, especially by denying the truth of natural right at its core, the cycle of decadence, decay, and collapse will reassert itself—with two daunting consequences. First, the epochal demonstration will be made that even the best regime runs roughly the same risks of failure as more unjust regimes, with significantly greater strictures on certain kinds of conduct placed on both rulers and ruled. Second, and even more dramatically, the constellation of other orders and regimes that gravitates for stability around the American regime will lose its protective cohesion and spin apart.

These implications instruct digital technologists that their fate and freedom, and, we might say, their fecundity, are more stubbornly entangled than it seems at first blush with America’s own. Obviously, for Americans themselves, the price of regime collapse will be steep and awful to bear. But in political terms, the steepest price Americans—and ex-Americans—will have to pay will be the reopening of the Pandora’s Box of alternate regimes, and the free play of harsh and unforgiving alternatives to the pursuit of justice according to natural right. Whether at home or abroad, they are likely to struggle even to find a hospitable basis for new foundings of new regimes, even ones considerably more fraught or fragile than America’s today.

Digital—and Counter-Digital—Radicalism

Yet there is little question but that the American regime is already in a state of distress. As (to take the starkest example) the election of Donald Trump has shown, the rise of the digital environment has in significant part thrown the globalized ruling class of the imagineering elite into confusion, chaos, and panic, and, in that respect, it has helped wrenchingly retrieve among Americans a fundamentally premodern psychology of national and cultural particularity. That shift, along with similar developments around the world, strongly suggests that digital itself may do more to disenchant and defeat the ambitions of the ruling class or “deep state” than mere political messaging, however earnest or well-broadcast. On the other hand, the sharp limits of political messaging today from both established liberal and conservative elites plainly indicate that “extreme” challenges to “mainstream” visions of the American regime are rising for reasons much more to do with the psychological and social shift from the televisual to the digital environment than from any kind of rabble rousing or mimetic warfare.

 What is radicalizing younger Americans on the “Right” and “Left”—and blurring those categories together—is not electric-age content activation so much as the techno-environmental transformation of their perceptions and sensibilities. This point is essential to grasp because it indicates that the distress facing the American regime is different in kind from mere shifts in battle lines among factions. In the digital environment the viability, the practicability, of the American regime is coming into question for reasons that go much deeper than “ideology” or “bias” or “opinion” or indeed any kind of political outworking of the human imagination. Rather than a matter of what-if, it is a matter of what-is.

To be sure, on the “Left,” the imagination is working overtime in the vanguard movement to replace the American regime with a normatively queer, post-white, and ultimately posthuman gnostic technocracy. But even this ultimate expression of the politics of delusion is attracting so many adherents in Silicon Valley and across the Woke Archipelago because digital is so furiously disenchanting all moderate or “basic” fantasies. Basic fantasies are “cringe” and “cheese,” pathetically doomed and low-status efforts to find stable refuge for one’s identity in lived-out visions that digital reduces to “dead memes” and humiliating clichés.

Whiteness is evil, but deprogram the evil, and whiteness is empty—hollow, meaningless, obsolete. We already see the same experience at work with maleness: deprogram the evil that defines it, according to the vanguard Left, and what is left is a disgusting, disenchanted neuter. Take away fatherhood (patriarchy), priesthood (molestation), military or law enforcement service (racism), business leadership (capitalist greed), and what is left is a civilization of post-boys, autogynephilic, cripplingly awkward, knowingly purposeless, well aware that games and gaming are rapidly sinking into low status despite the fleeting celebrity of the world’s very top gamers, occasionally ready to throw themselves at the feet of the most extreme possible fantasies—such as the fantasy that obeying the call of the chan to murder a host of interchangeable bystanders in some way operationalizes yet another interchangeable “manifesto.”

A spectrum is haunting online—the spectrum of autism. Faced with an endless barrage of disenchantment, young Americans increasingly conform to the architectonic attitudes and sensibilities of the Archive in order to survive digital life. The autistic sensibility is becoming normative on the internet: from virtuosity in pattern recognition (which Marshall McLuhan traced to immersive information overload) to strategic retreat from the exposure of commitment, connection, and community. To be “Aspie” or “spectrumy” is to be that most precious of things online—readily identifiable as safe to pass through the endless checkpoints of internet life. For those unable or unwilling to adopt that form, there are now nearly endless medicalized identities to adopt instead. There is no more grievous insult to hurl at someone online than to deny them their right to medicalize their identity—and the right to the medicine that sustains it.

Surely not every young(ish) American online is being sucked into the maelstrom of the most extreme “Right” and “Left” vanguards available. But millions—even at our most elite institutions, where queerness, mental illness, autism, and medicalization are all growing normative and appear to be selected for outright—increasingly view a stable, successful, ordinary life as a shameful fantasy, and find themselves bereft of resources to rebut what is now a presumption of obsolescence in, and of, America.

Digital Revisions to the Right

Might political theorists feel some obligation to rise to the occasion? Almost none of the realities of today’s transformation are being adequately confronted by America’s political leaders or its political theorists. They are characteristically not even properly considered. As a class they have functionally zero comprehension of digital technology, whether at the level of programming, of hardware, or of the laws of media and the formative effect of our communications tools.

Our political class is rushing towards complete disconnection from our technologists and the generations of Americans they and their tools are forming in profoundly new ways. Rising generations online already assume the political class is simply irrelevant. Liberals are in relatively less trouble, but only insofar as they have already surrendered their agency and their identity to whatever their ruling vanguard commands them to be. Conservatives, unwilling to make that deal, are generally recoiling in castrated snobbery before what they believe to be a resurgence of reactionary loutishness at once too horrible to countenance and too marginal to ever possibly stoop to take seriously.

The reaction on the online “Right” to conservatives and liberals alike is therefore to dismiss them as denizens of “clown world”—NPCs, non-player characters, from whom one can expect nothing but dead memes and fatal distractions from the task of carving out a viable existence worth the trouble and pain of living. With a few very minor and contingent exceptions, all of the mainstream strains of conservatism and liberalism, even some of the more ostensibly “heterodox” ones, are now considered completely obsolete and defective—that is, disenchanted fantasies that give no life in a digital age.

As the Right’s political class has retreated toward oblivion, technologists and digital natives looking for a viably human escape from the apocalyptic bonfire of the fantasies have begun to coalesce—as hinted above—around a freshly pre-modern notion of restoring human excellence to its pride of place. In short, the field of political thought that shellshocked conservatives have all but abandoned is being reoccupied by Right technologists developing an anthropology for the digital age. They vary. There is more than one way, at least in theory, to cut one’s losses and escape clown-world America before it’s too late. But if anything unites them, it is the suitably digital sensibility that our biological inequality is what makes humans human, what makes human excellence possible, and what can make human excellence into a way of life. Digital reopens the question of what makes human life distinctive, and the general answer reverberating through the digital Right is our genes.

On a surface level, this proposition is open to some superficial interpretations. The “nice” superficiality is no doubt familiar: consider all your many relatives who have freely, even enthusiastically, given their genetic map to large corporations in exchange for personal information about their bloodline identity. Today it is more interesting and more plausible to find your identity in your haplogroup and deep ethnic lineages than in your amalgam of hobbies or personal tastes, even if you do so out of a sort of symbolic act of polite deference to the idea that we are all beautiful and unique snowflakes. The not-so-nice superficiality, of course, is eugenicism: a moral dedication to breeding ultimately excellent men out of the most purely superior gene pool.

As significant as these indicators may be, the less superficial explorations of the new geneticism are even more important. One school of thought among the digital Right is that geneticism is simply inevitable as a general anthropological and technological trend, and that favorable regimes outside the United States will swiftly permit genetic enhancement and customization regardless of what America does or Americans think. But it is also possible that America may intervene in a powerful way by introducing the concept of a natural right to a certain degree of genetic enhancement.

Another school of thought, however, notably shies away from the teched-up version of the political philosophy of human excellence—in this sense, following Nietzsche, who assuredly did not want to turn over the quest for surpassing our “all too human” nature to the scientists, whose immense courage in their will to truth buckled at the final test, confronting the possibility that “truth is a woman.”

This is the intellectual zone peopled, as Michael Anton recently observed, by Bronze Age Pervert and his followers. The living online legend, known as BAP by those in the know, speaks in his self-published Bronze Age Mindset to those disenchanted by equality “as propagandized and imposed in our day: a hectoring, vindictive, resentful, leveling, hypocritical equality that punishes excellence and publicly denies all difference while at the same time elevating and enriching a decadent, incompetent, and corrupt elite,” as Anton puts it.

BAP would say—indeed does say—that this is where the logic of equality inherently and inevitably leads. He even goes so far as to deny that the American Founders meant a word of their rhetoric… BAP’s followers take for granted that the idea of equality is false. They even have a derisive term for it: ‘equalism.’ They dismiss the language of the founders, of rights, of the American political tradition as “Enlightenment,” which—rest assured—they don’t mean as a compliment.

Anton warns that, for “the talented kids who’ve found this book,” the respectable Right’s “earnest explanations of the true meaning of equality, how it comports with nature, how it can answer their dissatisfactions, and how it’s been corrupted” all fall on deaf ears. “Truth is truth, and if we’re right, we’re right,” he adds. “But it does mean that we need to acknowledge a serious rhetorical deficiency that we’ve not even begun to learn how to overcome. In the spiritual war for the hearts and minds of the disaffected youth on the right, conservatism is losing. BAPism is winning.”

Retrieving American Political Theory

And yet, the current configuration of America and the world in the digital age raises distinct complications even for ethically pure BAPists. In fact, similar complications arise for every strain of generally Right-inflected anthropological politics arising from the perceptions of technologists and digital natives, because the question is simple but nettlesome: how much of your life are you willing to stake on the possibility that no viable life worth living in the digital age is possible if the American regime is not preserved?

There are potent signs that a tiny few may be able to take what Curtis Yarvin calls the “clear pill” and punt on the question of America’s preservation, relocating to quieter (or louder) zones perhaps more nurturing or forgiving of men rethinking and retrieving human excellence. It is unclear how BAPpy it really is to take a chance on abandoning America to gnostic Left posthumanists with the tools and wealth of Silicon Valley at their disposal. And it is not at all evident that technologists appreciative of the new geneticism are best off rolling the dice on a world where the American regime has lapsed.

The fateful flaw of the new online Right is its flirtation with the fantasy that one can escape politics altogether—and with it true political philosophy, the knowledge of justice, of human governance, and of anthropological constraints that make the unfettered pursuit (or worship) of personal biopower ineffective as a template for social organization. The fantasy that the reorganization of social life around human excellence transcends and escapes the limits imposed by politics is not as delusional and destructive as the fantasy that social life can be perfected by transcending our very humanity, but it is profoundly unwise nonetheless.

The reality—the ground where political theory can re-enter our destiny—is that the American regime is a strategic resource of immeasurable and ultimately unpredictable value, even to those increasingly unready or unwilling to give their lives over to its preservation. No matter how disenchanted with our distressed regime or disillusioned with clown world, people seeking viable new social configurations for the digital age need to recognize they have a major, inescapable stake in the preservation of America’s regime.

For it is this regime that captures in its system of justice the political facts of our anthropology, and throws light on the limits beyond which human excellence for its own sake cannot justly be pushed. The power, reach, and safe harbor for excellence that our regime continues to provide—with a rare measure of freedom—are precious advantages not readily obtained elsewhere. The most powerful enemies of freely flourishing natural human lives still find in America their greatest and strongest adversary, and while that is a credit to flesh-and-blood Americans, it is a consequence of the structure of our regime. The vengeful imagineers and gnostic posthumanists in America, whom the technologists of the new Right rightly seek freedom from, will gain tremendous new powers if they have their way and destroy it.

Similarly, for those terrified of a new digital reactionary movement bent on breeding barbarian Übermench, or simply of street gangs of teched-up fascist LARPers, the inescapable truth is that only those expert in the theory and practice of the American regime can lead those wavering in the wilds of online back to a salutary patriotism. Established liberals and conservatives have lost that capability, and the fanatical woke vanguard of the ruling class will never be able to gain it.

America’s regime is still urgently worth the trouble of preserving, despite—or, really, because of—the harrowing totality of the digital transformation, and the unprecedented disenchantment it brings. 

is Executive Editor of The American Mind. He is the author of The Art of Being Free (St. Martin's Press, 2017), contributing editor of American Affairs, and a fellow at the Center for the Study of Digital Life.

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